The Weight of Government

In the chaos of defeat Republicans and conservatives feel most ashamed about the profligate spending.  How was it that the conservative President Bush and the Republican Congress of 2001-2006 could have so increased the weight of government on the backs of the American people -- including that most shameful spending of all, earmarks? 

The answer is simple.  Republican politicians know that the American people don't really want to cut government.  They found that out in the 1995 government shutdown battle with President Clinton. 

This was obvious already at the beginning of the Reagan era when the Great Communicator declared at his inaugural "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."  Then in 1984 he continued with the generalities in his radio address on waste, fraud, and abuse. 

Talk like this betrays the fact that as soon as you get down to specifics, actually identifying programs that you want to cut, you lose the American people.

Let's look at the numbers from for 2009 (leaving out the trillions of bail-out money, of course):

Pensions: $891.1 billion
Health Care: $958.2 billion
Education: $873.7 billion
Defense: $806.1 billion
Welfare: $467.7 billion
Everything Else: $1,555.6 billion
Total Spending: $5,552.4 billion

Want to cut Pensions?  You'll find it's defended to the death by Social Security and public employee pension recipients.  Want to cut Health Care?    Try to persuade any woman in America that she has enough health care.  Cut Education?  You just don't care about kids. 

But what about the trillion and a half of Everything Else?  Well, good luck with that.  Before you burrow down to the infernal earmarks, you'll find general government expense, interest on the debt, police, judges, prisons, and water and sewer to contend with.

And of course, the American people just voted in President-elect Obama on a platform of increasing health-care and education expenditures, not to mention the fight against global warming. 

The fact is that in the United States in 2008, most people instinctively feel that when there's a problem, the government should do something about it.  

In the perspective of Michael Novak's model of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, this means that people believe that whenever there is a problem we should not look to the economic sector or to the moral/cultural sector to solve the problem.  No, people immediately reach for government, the political sector.  And the political sector is the realm of force and compulsion. 

So that means that most people cannot conceive of solving a societal problem without force and compulsion.  They cannot imagine pensions without government.  They cannot imagine health care without government, and they cannot imagine education without government.  And as long as they think that the weight of government will continue to increase.

Now you know the size of the problem as conservatives go into opposition.

In their everyday lives people do not think this way.  They live by cooperation and persuasion.  Yet now vast areas of our lives are controlled by political power.  And there has never been a time when government had such powers as it has today.

We know how this has happened.  The progressive educated class wanted it that way.  In the mid 19th century Marx and Engels argued that unless the proletarians rose up and seized political power from the capitalists they would be "immiserated" as the capitalists threw them out of work.  In the late 19th century Fabians wanted to replace the wasteful "higgling" of the market with genuine democracy based on "rational factual socialist argument."  In the early 20th century William James wanted to fill the political void once occupied by warlike activity with the "moral equivalent of war."  All these roads led to bigger government.

On their ascent to power the progressive educated class used these political weapons to great effect.  The weapons hit home with the immigrant masses in the city and with each rising generation of the progressive educated elite.

A century of progressive politics has accustomed ordinary people to the vast powers of the state, and now most people cannot imagine a life that is not rigorously controlled by the political sector.

Conservatives are different.  Our belief system is founded upon a vision of society with limited government and limited powers.  We understand that this is only possible in a society where the power of the political sector is checked and balanced by equally powerful economic and moral/cultural sectors. 

Conservatives ask citizens to live a life of faith and trust.  Conservatives say: put not your trust in princes, but in the love of God.  Conservatives say: get yourself a skill and then offer it to the world.  Trust that the world will value your skills and offer a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.   Conservatives say: give to the world. Give to your spouse, your family, your neighborhood, your city, and the world will give back.

Why in the world would anyone believe stuff like that?

The answer is simple.  If you want to reduce the weight of government and the power of the progressive educated elite, then you have to believe stuff like that.  It's the only game in town that offers the hope of a society of contract and trust and a reduction in the weight of government.

But how do we persuade the young people, who voted so enthusiastically for President-elect Obama, that the conservative way is the real way of hope and change, and that to build such a world you must force the political sector to share its power with the other equal sectors?

How indeed?

Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his and usgovernmentspending.comHis Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.